SUMMER STUDIO | HAPPY SUMMER TANK
21 - 25 January 2014
Opening Night |Thursday 23 January 6-8pm,
Artist Talk | Saturday 25 January 2.30pm
Transforming the gallery walls into brightly coloured backdrops into a video recording and editing studio, Diego Ramirez will develop a bastardized documentary on cosplay focusing on the manner in which players alleviate gender and ethnic difference by embodying the characters they perform. Cosplay stands for costume play and is the act of performing fictitious characters appropriated from videogames, films and other media. Happy Summer Tank reflects on cosplay as a marker of identity, addressing the politics of fandom and role-play while highlighting the complex relationship cosplayers hold with the capitalist system.
Tanque Feliz de Verano
Cosplay, short for costume play, is a role-playing activity that involves performing characters from media franchises including anime, videogames and manga. It is a phenomenon that developed in Japan and America in the context of the “con” or convention, a yearly event that gathers fans and cultural producers from around the world to submerge into an ocean of pop waves.1 Numerous academics link cosplay to drag, a correlation that echoes with most resonance in crossplay, a strand of cosplay that entails playing a character from the opposite gender.2 Indeed, it could be argued – perhaps with overt enthusiasm – that crossplayers warp the laws of gender by adopting the behaviors and norms of the opposite sex, causing paradigms to melt in the flaming devotion of their mimicry.
Cosplay is no stranger to the art world. The high finish and electric flamboyance of their masquerades are central to Cao Fai’s video Cosplayers (2004) and the outlandishness of their costuming is an aesthetic recognisable in the oeuvre of Mariko Mori. Takashi Murakami’s hyper banal collaboration with director McG exploits the cute and the sexy of cosplay in their music video Akihabara Majokko Princess (2010), which features actress Kirsten Dunst playing a stereotypical American “chick” dressed in a Sailor Moon-esque outfit. More recently, performance video artist Ming Wong can be seen rocking out a Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Rei Ayanami suit with conceptual rigor in his three channel video installation Me in Me (2013). However, the voice of cosplayers from the land down under remains largely unspoken.
Performing foreign characters implicates an act of cross-ethnicising, a practice often exacerbated by racial politics in the heated context of Australia. Memories of a colonial settlement resurface with frequency during cosplay to summon a period of imperial expansion curiously preceded by the events of the American Civil War. In fact, according to historian Philip G. Hoffman it was only after losing their American colonies that the British Empire turned their domineering gaze to the far land of Terra Australis. The necessity for a penal colony and a refuge for the loyalists who were being persecuted in America catalysed the settlement of New South Wales.3 Calling upon their notorious diplomatic proceedings, the British declared the land Terra nullius and property of the British Empire, ignoring the presence of its original inhabitants. This heritage often marks the performance of race and ethnicity with the morbid remembrances of “blackfacing”, a practice best known to America but also exercised in Australian theatre and film since the debut of Bushrangers by Henry Melville in 1834 (a play featuring an aboriginal man named “Native” portrayed by a white man in blackface).4
Female to male crossplay parallels drag kinging, a practice that enables women to access forms of power restricted to men in patriarchal structures. Delving on the participation of women in the American Civil War, DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook account in their book They Fought Like Demons (2002) that over 250 women were enlisted in the army during the Revolution.5 According to the authors, many were only discovered to be women after their corpses were removed from the battleground, much to the shock of their fellow soldiers who found some of them were even pregnant.6 Although crossplayers are immersed in the banality of play as opposed to the turbulence of battle, their performances continue to deterritorialise mainstream masculinity into the subversive field of drag, expanding the boundaries of femininity and thus disrupting patriarchal law, as well as mobilising power onto themselves.7
Gender issues are often accompanied by the ambigious ideal of equality, a seemingly benign concept operating under hegemonic norms. Although in the mind of the West the origins of equality can be traced back to classical antiquity, its inception is often attributed to The French Revolution, where it was articulated with centrality in the motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.8 A prototypical exercise on democracy, the revolution crystalised the abolition of feudalism in the rise of modern liberal democracy. The reverberation of the Revolution can be felt loud and strong in the discourse of identity politics, in which subjugated groups find themselves engaging in a struggle for inclusion and equality. However, this ideal inhabits a singular position within the social continuum, more specifically that occupied by the figure of a heterosexual middle class white man.9 Indeed, emancipatory claims are often articulated in reference to the “universal” subject of democracy — a Western construct marked by its bourgeois masculine hetero- normative whiteness. Therefore, through a queer lens, inclusion is seen as reconfiguring difference to accommodate a hetero-normative structure, heightening sameness and supressing deviation.
Some may find cosplayers childish or too wacked out, but I generally think they are pretty fab.
Diego Ramirez (Guadalajara, MX.1989) is an artist living and working in Melbourne.
1 Susan Napier, From Impressionism to anime: Japan as fantasy and fan cult in the mind of the West, 1st ed., (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) 151-155.
2 Rachel Leng, “Gender, Sexuality And Cosplay: A Case Study of Male-To-Female Crossplay”, The Phoenix Papers Volume 1 (2013): 89.
3 Philip G. Hoffman, “Australia’s Debt to the American”, The Historian Volume 17 (1955): 148.
4 Jirra Harvey, A Minstrel Legacy: Typecast in Indigeneity, (Melbourne: Centre For Contemporary Photography, 2008).
5 DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook, They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, (Baton Rouge: Louisana State University Press, 2002) 7.
6 Ibid. 14.
7 Kathryn Rosenfeld, “Drag King Magic: Performing/Becoming the Other”, Journal of Homosexuality Volume 43 (2002): 203.
8 Louis Fischer, “Equality: An Elusive Ideal”, Equity and Excellence Volume 24 (2006): 64.
9 Wendy Brown, States of Injury: Power and Freedom in Late Modernity, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1995) 53- 61.